The best public art manages to be widely accessible without being superficial or trite. It is a difficult combination to pull off – and by that very difficulty is the mark of a more skilled artist than one who simply produces something obscure to all except the expert. Paul Cummins’s ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, installed to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, manage brilliantly to be both accessible and meaningful.
Designed to evoke an image of blood flowing out from and around the Tower of London, the installation is gradually being expanded through to Armistice Day this November. Eventually there will be one poppy for each British casualty during the war, making the full display a huge 888,246 poppies – and hence explaining the fact that there’s also a stage designer involved, Tom Piper, who has written more about the project over on his site.
Below my photos is a ‘making of’ video that is also well worth a watch. The poppies are going to then be sold for charity – details here – and installing the 888,246 poppies will require rather a lot of volunteer help. It will also require a huge amount of volunteer effort to remove them afterwards too.
It’s all free to view by the way; there’s no need to pay for admission to the Tower of London as you can walk around the outside of the moat to view the whole display.
I passed the site a couple of weeks after my first visit, and the spread of red poppies through the moat is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Beautiful as the spread of red grows, each dot being a lovely individual piece of art. Heartbreaking as each of those extra poppies marks another life that was lost.
You can see in the first photo below particularly how much further the red has spread since the last photo above whilst the second photo shows how the paths through the poppies originally left for some of the early photo opportunities with high profile figures have now been filled in.